Parkinson's Disease and Weight Loss


If you have been newly diagnosed, or even if you have been living with the disease for a while, you may notice that Parkinson's disease and weight loss often occur together. Why it occurs and how to treat the loss are discussed in this article.

Parkinson's Disease and Weight Loss: An Unintentional Diet

Persons who have been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease may notice they are losing weight. While it can occur at the onset of the disease, the loss can become more significant as the degenerative neurological disorder worsens.

To understand why Parkinson's results in weight loss, it is important to know about the disease itself. Parkinson's is a progressive disease that affects motor and muscle control. Cells in part of the brain die and no longer make dopamine, which then affects motor and muscle skills. According to the National Parkinson Foundation a diagnosis of Parkinson's can be made if two or more of the following symptoms are seen, especially concentrated on one side of the body:

  • Rest tremor of limbs
  • Slowness of movement
  • Rigidity of limbs or trunk
  • Poor balance

It is frequently diagnosed after age 60, though it can show up sooner (consider the case of Michael J. Fox). Being a progressive disease, it will gradually worsen over time. Fortunately, several treatments are available to those afflicted with the disease.

Unintentional Weight Loss

Weight loss is frequently seen in patients with Parkinson's. The following factors contribute to the unintended loss:

  • Depression
  • Nausea (due to medications)
  • Loss of taste
  • Loss of sense of smell
  • Tremors (extra movement burns more calories)
  • Rigidity (requires extra energy to go about daily tasks
  • Unable to hold utensils
  • Difficulty swallowing

One study done over the course of a decade found that a worsening of disease, age of patient at diagnosis, and onset of visual hallucinations can bring on weight loss. Additionally, dementia may be a factor, as well as neurodegeneration of motor and nonmotor skills.

Problems Associated with Weight Loss

A number of problems are associated with significant weight loss. First of all, if less food is being eaten, malnutrition due to lack of essential vitamins and minerals is a serious issue. Also, poor nutrition leads to loss of muscle mass and bone density. Too much loss of bone density can progress to osteoporosis at worst, or make an all ready unbalanced person more prone to falls and fractures.

A weakened immune system can also be blamed on a lack of nutrients due to Parkinson's disease and weight loss. Excess fatigue or dehydration can be other adverse reactions to loss of weight.

Finally, a person could be at risk for other serious diseases due to their depleted immune system and lack of defenses.

Combating Weight Loss

To combat the problem of Parkinson's disease and weight loss, and the number of other problems it then leads to, a person will want to try and do several things. First of all, increase the number of calories eaten. Be sure to eat a balanced diet. If necessary, drink a high calorie, nutritionally sound drink such as Ensure.

If the weight loss is due to problems handling utensils or ability to swallow, consider eating soft foods or pureeing dishes in order to drink them. Soft foods also reduce choking hazards.

A patient on a levodopa drug may need to increase his/her intake of protein, because it can affect the body's ability to absorb the nutrient. Speak with your doctor about taking the drug and optimizing your protein digestion.

Eating small meals more frequently can make the task of eating seem more manageable for those with difficulty. Spicing it up to appeal to taste buds and look more appetizing can help as well.

Finally, taking supplements may be able to help keep a person healthy. Some recommended supplements include:

  • Vitamin B6
  • Coenzyme Q10
  • NADH
  • Vitamin E
  • Amino Acids
  • Gingko Biloba
  • Vitamin C
  • Flaxseed Oil

As with any diet or supplement program, speak with your doctor before beginning it. Consulting a nutritionist or dietician along with your neurologist or primary care physician can help you regain the weight you loss and then maintain a healthy weight.

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Parkinson's Disease and Weight Loss